Never leave Leeds United
Pope and Swift. It sounds like a solicitor’s firm or something, doesn’t it? Well, somewhere, it might be. But it is definitely a superb blog that covers all sports, not just football. Ben Whitelaw is one half of Pope and Swift and he has been kind enough to write this smashing article about Leeds United.
The transfer of Leeds striker Jermaine Beckford to Everton in the summer marked the continuation of a recent trend in British football. Not the trend in which players take advantage of the Bosman ruling and gravitate towards the big bucks of the Premiership at the end of their contract or indeed the tendency players have to underestimate the high standard of the Championship, a league to which Leeds were promoted to at the end of last season with Beckford’s help. In fact, it marked the continuation of the idea that former Leeds players just don’t do very well after leaving Elland Road.
Beckford may be just four months into his Toffees career but he is already showing the classic signs of the post-Leeds lull. The former Wealdstone striker, who scored 35 goals in all competitions last year, has hardly set Merseyside alight, failing to convince in his three league starts and missing a penalty against League One side Brentford as the Toffees crashed out of the Carling Cup.
But the former Chelsea trainee, who handed in a transfer request just days before the FA Cup third round tie against arch rivals Manchester United in January, isn’t the first player to have found it hard to adjust to life outside West Yorkshire.
Further evidence for the prosecution
Fabian Delph, the 20-year-old midfielder who was instrumental in Leeds’ charge to the top of League One at the beginning of last season, joined Martin O’Neill and Aston Villa in January this year. Despite a few early appearances, his small stature saw chances limited before he sustained serious knee ligament damage during training in April which continues to sideline him.
Fellow fleet-footed midfielder Danny Rose also struggled to assert himself amidst the physicality of the Premier League. Rose, who was sold Spurs in 2007 before the Doncaster-born player had even made an appearance for the Whites, has found chances limited at White Hart Lane and was farmed out to Watford, Peterborough and now Bristol City to gain some experience, where he has shown moments of the magic he produced on his Premier League debut in which he scored a wonder strike against Arsenal.
Matt Kilgallon is another one. Supposedly the heir to the throne of Jonathan Woodgate, the former England Under-21 international was shipped off to Sheffield United at the start of 2007 where he struggled under Neil Warnock but fared a little better under the watchful eye of Kevin Blackwell, who had managed him at Leeds.
A ton of appearances earnt Kilgallon a move to Sunderland but he too struggled to deal with the step up to the Premier League and has since had the misfortune of playing in a stuttering Middlesbrough side since August, where he is on loan.
The young ones
Add to that the strange cases of Simon Walton, the relentless midfielder akin to Lee Bowyer who moved to Charlton in 2006 but whose career, via QPR, Plymouth and a dozen clubs on loan, has spiralled out of control, and Tom Taiwo, one half of the young duo sold to Chelsea under acrimonious circumstances in 2006, who now plays at Carlisle in League One, and you perhaps begin to see the curse of those that leave Leeds.
Granted, all are still young and their careers may peak in time. But former Leeds players just don’t seem to go onto to better things, despite having the talent to do so. They seem hardwired to do otherwise.
More recently, David Healy, Leeds’ top scorer in consecutive seasons in the Championship, has done very little since leaving the Whites for Fulham back in July 2007. In fact, Healy’s winner for Doncaster on Saturday, for whom he is on loan, was his first since February and only his third since the start of 2009.
Similarly his long time partner in crime, Richard Cresswell scored some important goals for Stoke City in 2007/2008 after leaving Leeds to help them reach the promised land of the Premier League. But Cresswell failed to notch in 30 appearances in the Potters’ first season in the top flight and was sold to Sheffield United in the summer, who have not fulfilled their potential by any means this season.
The cream of the crop (and Stephen Crainey)
That’s not to say there are exceptions to the rule. The careers of James Milner, Aaron Lennon and Rio Ferdinand have been on an upward trend ever since leaving Elland Road, but that’s hardly surprising considering the promise each showed. Paul Robinson, Lee Bowyer and Ian Harte have ploughed on, playing regularly but not spectacularly for Blackburn, Birmingham and Carlisle before Reading.
Full-back Stephen Crainey, who spent two years at Leeds before moving to Blackpool in 2007, is another who has enjoyed success post-Leeds, sampling the delights of promotion to the Premiership last season whilst Robbie Blake somehow managed not only to play numerous times for Burnley after his £250,000 move but now plies his trade in the Premiership with Bolton.
A lesson for Howson
These tales of the unfulfilled potential of former Leeds players should serve as a warning to the current crop of Leeds youngsters, particularly starlet Jonny Howson. Because while Beckford was an unused sub for the visit of Stoke City last week, 22-year-old Howson, sporting the Leeds armband, was scoring his first hat-trick in a vital away win against Scunthorpe. Hardly a tough choice it would seem.
However, at some point in the future, Howson may be tempted when a bigger club comes calling and he may follow in the footsteps of Beckford and company in the hope of furthering his career. But Jonny should take heed; as those that have gone before him have shown, life after Leeds is far from the bed of (white) roses that many presume it will be.